Do You Smell What I Smell?

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2007
Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Do you hear what I hear?  Do you see what I see?
These lines are from the popular Christmas song, of course,
    describing with rich imagery the sight of a star dancing in the night,
        with a tail as big as a kite . . .
    and the sound of a song above the trees,
        with a voice as big as the sea.
Do you hear what I hear?  Do you see what I see?

Sight and sound. 
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, there’s the “Sight and Sound” theater,
    an evangelical ministry that dramatizes Biblical stories
    in 2000 seat theater equipped with a state-of-the-art technology and stage.
Much more modest than the Christian Broadway productions up there in Amish Country,
here in this place we also make use of sight and sound
    with music that touches the spirit
    and with visuals – digital projection, architecture, paraments, gestures –
    that evoke and provide meaning.
Sight and sound.

But early last month, as I was preparing for Advent,
    I wrote a brief reflection which included these words:
By the Fourth Sunday in Advent we’re so stinking close to the birth of Christ
    that we can practically smell the stable.
No, I did not write that we can practically see the star, stable, sheep, or shepherds.
No, I did not write that we can practically hear the angels singing or sheep baaing.
No, I wrote that we can practically smell the stable.
You see, the sense of smell evokes in us memories, feelings, experiences
    that neither sight nor sound can.
The 1960 film Scent of Mystery used a device called the Smell-O-Vision
    to pump odors into the movie theater to enhance the viewers experience of the movie.
Well, the movie was pretty bad and the Smell-O-Vision stunk, so to speak.
But the concept was brilliant.
Bring smell into the telling of a story,
    for the sense of smell is unmatched in its ability to capture the imagination
    and tap into the memories and feelings of viewers.
Smell can be powerfully alluring,
    which is why we spend so much money on deodorant, perfumes, colognes
        and other fragrances.
But smell can also be powerfully repulsive,
    causing in us a physiological response that goes well beyond the nose.
From the stench of rotten meat to the aroma of fresh apple pie,
    smells touch us, smells move us in powerful ways.

Perhaps that’s why, then, we don’t emphasize smell too much in our culture.
Sure, we have our perfumes and our scented candles,
    but in our language we have much fewer words for smell
    than we do for taste, texture, sight or sound.
I think we shy away from smells precisely because they are so moving,
    they are so earthy, they are so real.
Smells invade our being,
    they enter our nostrils and saturate the air that fills our lungs.
Smell penetrates us, violating all attempts we make at establishing a “personal space” around us.
We can’t get away from smells.

So, do you smell what I smell?
Yes, you see what I see – a star, shepherd and sheep, a baby in a stable.
Yes, you hear what I hear – angels singing Glory to God in the highest.
These sights and sounds are comfortable and familiar, almost ordinary to us.
But what about the smells?  Do you smell what I smell?
A baby, farm animals, hay, a stable, shepherds who were likely pretty unhygienic . . . .
In this story of spectacular sights and sacred sounds,
    there are also some powerful, pungent, and otherwise under-publicized smells.

Smells that penetrate our being, invade our space,
    fill our nostrils and lungs with gut-touching, if not gut-wrenching, odors.
Smells that move us, touch us. 
Smells that simultaneously allure and repulse.
These are the smells of a Savior, born in the stench of a stall
    a Savior who just like a smell invades our space, fill us with his Spirit,
    and move us in life-shattering, a life everlasting ways.
In this season, enjoy the sights and the sounds, yes
    but take a wiff of the smells, too, good bad and otherwise,
    and let yourself be moved
    by the God born to us in a manger
    who takes hold of all our senses,
        and who lays claim to our lives.
Do you smell what I smell?
The scent of a Savior is coming.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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